Greenwich’s Hughes golden at Junior World Championships


Greenwich native and Greenwich Academy alum Galen Hughes, second from right, takes to the water with her Gators’ teammates during a regatta earlier this spring. — Dan Burns photo

Greenwich native Galen Hughes was used to high-pressure situations.

While competing for the Greenwich Academy crew team, Hughes found herself in the familiar spot of being in the middle of high-pressure situations.

However, competing with the best rowers in the world was something completely different for the recent GA graduate.

Back on Aug. 10, Hughes took to the waters in Trakai, Lithuania and represented the United States in the 2013 World Rowing Junior Championships.

Once again the Greenwich resident found herself in a pressure-packed situation and yet again she didn’t crack. In fact, Hughes and the Women’s Junior 4- boat finished tops overall and helped the United States bring home a gold medal.

The racing in Lithuania was nothing like Hughes has seen before, as Hughes has only raced when she was a member of the Greenwich Academy crew team. While competing for the Gators was a thrill and more than exciting, Hughes said the experience at the World Rowing Junior Championships was epic.

“It was amazing,” Hughes said. “It’s a whole new level when you’re racing the best in the world and representing your country. It was just crazy. The first race we finished, we were sitting around afterwards and one of the girls on my team turned around and asked me how I thought my first race at Worlds was. I told her that it was epic. I had no idea what to expect and it was so amazing to have that experience.”

In the grand finals, Hughes, along with teammates Carline Hart of Massachusetts, Sylvia Sallquist of Washington and Elize Spilsbury of Massachusetts finished first overall, netting a 2,000-meter time of 6:53.85. Italy finished a close second, posting a time of 6:54.23. Germany grabbed the bronze with a time of 6:56.29 and Poland finished fourth with a time of 6:59.24. Rounding out the top five was New Zealand, who finished with a time of 7:00.04.

“Before the grand finals, we were joking around about the fact that I told my teammates that my first race at Worlds was epic,” Hughes said. “We crossed the finish line, finally caught our breath and the girls turn around to me and I said ‘Now that was epic.’ There’s no better feeling than coming in first and bringing a gold medal home for yourself and your country. That victory made all the hard work worth it.”

Greenwich resident and recent Greenwich Academy grad Galen Hughes, third from left, poses for a team photo after winning the gold medal at the World Junior Rowing Championships.

Greenwich resident and recent Greenwich Academy grad Galen Hughes, third from left, poses for a team photo after winning the gold medal at the World Junior Rowing Championships.

Just based on times, Hughes’ boat could have picked up a silver medal in the event for America. While second place would have still made the trip highly successful, Hughes and the rest of her teammates wanted more.

“To put all that hard work in for so many months and not have a final race would haven’t been fun,” Hughes said. “You want to get far, race and show everybody what you have, so that final race was huge for us. It was the hardest race we had, but crossing the finish line first was an amazing feeling.”

One of the hardest things for Hughes during Worlds actually had nothing to do with her time in the water. It was the waiting game that the Greenwich native was struggling with.

“The nerves and everything leading up to the race was tough,” Hughes said. “You get to the race and you’re nervous the entire time, but once the race starts, you’re in the race and the only thing you’re thinking about is winning and pulling hard. It’s the hours leading up to the race where you’re thinking about what you can do to improve, what everybody else is going to be doing and did a team practice more than we did. We were racing against teams that were selected in October and we were selected in July.”

Although Hughes couldn’t be happier about bringing a gold medal to the United States, it was her time with her teammates in Trakai, Lithuania that was priceless.

“It was great spending that time with the team,” Hughes said. “Everybody is so close throughout selection camp and then throughout training. We are all living together, so we get to bond with a lot of people. Going overseas was great because you’re walking around in all your American gear and everybody is looking at you. The Germans and the United States are always the biggest teams there, so it’s a big deal when you’re one of the two biggest teams because everybody knows your boats are doing well. It was awesome and a lot of fun getting to know each other.”

While preparing for competition against some of the best teams the planet has to offer was stressful for Hughes, the Greenwich resident still believes that it was all the practicing leading up to selection day that was the hardest.

“You have to put in a lot of hard work just to get selected,” Hughes said. “You have to do it on your own also. My season with GA ended in late May and I didn’t try out for the team until June 15. I had three weeks where I had to train on my own and it was really tough. Once I got to camp, we practiced twice a day, every day, and did countless racing. It was mentally draining as well because you don’t know what’s going on. Once the boats are actually named and the teams are named, it’s even harder.”

At Greenwich Academy, Hughes was a four-year member of the crew team. She won a New England championship her sophomore year and placed in the top 10 during the USRowing Junior National Championships.

Hughes said that the competition she battled against during the spring rowing season at GA was tough, but competing against the top competition in the world is a completely different story.

“I loved my time at GA, but it’s much different at the International level,” Hughes said. “In my four years at GA, I would pull as hard as I could and really gave it my all during every race I competed against. At the International level it is so different. I didn’t know that you can black out an entire race. I literally don’t remember 1,500 meters of the grand finals at Worlds. I can’t remember it because I was pulling so hard.”

Grabbing the gold with her teammates in the Women’s Junior 4- boat during Worlds was certainly the highlight of her rowing career, her time at Greenwich Academy was not far behind.

“I loved my experience at GA,” Hughes said. “I think the school does a great job at promoting GA crew. We worked so hard as a team and the team was always so close. They were a great group of girls to be around. The program went from being two Eights boats my freshman year to having 40 to 50 girls on the team. It really grew a lot.”

Hughes will take her experience at the Junior World Rowing Championships and bring it with her to Princeton University starting in a few short days. The Greenwich native plans to row for the Tigers this season as well.

“I learned that a lot of hard work and teamwork pays off,” Hughes said. “It’s such a team sport and it’s also so individual. Being recruited on the Princeton team is all about your times, your height and weight and everything individual. When you get to be on the team, all you want to do is race well with the girls that are there. It’s all about working together and realizing how to be competitive within the team, but also what it takes to work as a team and finish first.”

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